Bellow is a collection of articles written by Larry Sawyer for the MRRA Newsletter.
Reprinted with the permission of Lawrence M. Sawyer.
A Systematic Approach to Shooting Great Offhand Scores.
(c)2009 Lawrence M. Sawyer. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or distributed in any manner, including electronically, without the express written permission of the author.
Successfully shooting a rifle in the standing position is the culmination of an essentially infinite number of minute physical and mental events, all taking place in rapid succession. The entire sequence occurs over the course of no more than 10 to 15 seconds, and often less. In this article we will examine a part of the process that many shooters have likely not considered the transition between your approach to the bull, and the moment you break the shot. More specifically, we'll address the choice you make when refining your technique: do I break the shot at the moment of arrival at the bull, or do I "work" the hold to some optimal point of control?
We're going to assume here that you have been shooting standing for some time and are not entirely new to rifle marksmanship and the position rifle events. And, what we're going to discuss is equally applicable to Highpower, Smallbore, or Air rifle. The only difference will be the time frame within which the sequence takes place and the accuracy standards that are in play with the execution of the shot.
First, let's look at the early stage steps in setting your position, as this is the foundation for consistent natural point of aim, and a well executed shot.
Step one is foot placement. Consistent placement of your feet in relation to the target face builds muscle memory and makes the subsequent steps easier as you develop your technique. Consistent foot placement trains the associated muscle groups in the lower legs, upper legs, mid-section, etc. to assume equally consistent tension and work with each other with greater and greater predictability. The result is that your entire standing position becomes more and more repeatable, and makes the final steps of breaking the shot predictable and easy.
Step two is mounting the rifle. This actually consists of several smaller steps, each done carefully and deliberately: placing the butt in the shoulder; putting the support hand in position on the underside of the stock; placing the elbow on the hip and raising the rifle; settling the position; and finally, bringing your cheek to the stock and thus your eye to the sight.
Again, the assumption here is that you are familiar with the above steps and their order. If not, take a minute to read over them again and note the sequence. The greater the precision you apply to the early steps, the easier it will be to break a centered shot. Being consistent early-on provides the foundation for a known, predictable approach path to the center of the bull.
Finally, step three: the approach to the bull itself and the focus of this article. My goal here is not to maintain and argue that there is only one answer to the ensuing question, even though I believe that one method is more likely to give you the best result. Rather, I want to get you thinking about which approach, based on your own skill level and experience, you think would be best for you. Certainly, you can change tactics at any time if the approach you are using isn't working. However, any change in method deserves several months of consistent practice before it can be evaluated fairly for its effectiveness.
Approaching from just above the bull at 11-12:00 allows gravity to do most of the work. Your job at this point is to simply control the descent. Trigger squeeze can begin when, of just before, you see black in the front aperture. If you're using a post front sight, your squeeze can begin when the top of the bull first appears at the same level as the bottom or base of the post.
Descending down to the bull should take about 5-10 seconds. During this time, you should be steadily increasing pressure on the trigger. And then, we arrive at the moment of truth.
Some years ago I invested in an electronic training device made by the Noptel Co. of Finland. Other companies, such as Rika and Scatt, make very similar instruments. These devices attach to your barrel and allow you to watch your movement in relation to the bull, and replay it in slow motion. Initially I used it strictly for my personal training, but I quickly added it into my coaching sessions with advanced juniors and other adults. I have recorded training sessions with some highly advanced national-level shooters.
These sessions have revealed a remarkably consistent truth about the typical standing position "hold": it doesn't last long! Three to four seconds is about all the time you have when you first center the bull. And even within that initial three to four second period, the first opportunity to break the shot the first one-half to one-second phase with the least amount of movement, in many cases a ten ring hold occurs at the beginning of this three four seconds!
Many of you will recognize this phase as the part where you "weren't ready"!
In fact, if you are consistent with all of the parts of the pre-shot routine, you can actually break the shot at the moment of arrival at the bull's center. That's option number one. Option two is to work the hold for some period of time until you are ready to break the shot. I will tell you here and now that this method in hampered by human reaction time. By human reaction time, I'm referring to the amount of time that passes between the moment you decide to pull the trigger, and the moment when your trigger finger completes the action. Over many years, and thousands upon thousands of shots viewed on the Noptel, my finding is that human reaction time is virtually never less than .16 to .19 seconds. That's about 1/5 to 1/6 of a second. That may not seem all that short to some of you, and it wouldn't seem to be a problem, until you see just how far a person can move out of the ten ring in that period of time. In fact, it's very easy and quite common to move four or five scoring rings in one fifth of a second. And that's with a decent hold!
Those with a sub-par hold will find that they move six to eight scoring rings in that time frame. And the news gets even worse if your reaction time is slower: if you lengthen it to .25-.30 seconds, the entire bull's width can be covered.
The other major problem is that as soon as you drop below the centerline of the bull, pushing back up to center employs your muscles in an entirely different way. This usually occurs after that initial three to four second window, and commonly the rifle will move wildly to the left and/or right on it's way back up above the bull before the shooter makes another attempt at a hold. This sequence can take 15-25 seconds all the while depleting the brain of oxygen and fatiguing the eyes and muscles. You are far better off to resists the urge to "work" the hold if the sight picture drops below center, and put the gun down in preparation for a fresh attempt.
The quality and size of your hold will always be improved with careful attention to your natural point of aim, since errors in your body position in relation to the bull are often responsible for large-scale movements in your hold.
The good news is that hard work and dedication can pay off. Through long-term practice, a solid hold can be developed which can then be employed after the approach to the bull is complete, and you can make the most of that magical first couple of seconds.
Put these ideas into play next time you pick up your rifle to shoot standing and I think you'll see your scores improve quickly.
(Author's note: I fully admit that my own standing scores often aren't that great. I may be reaching the point when I'm better at teaching it than doing it, but I hope not! )
Successful Standing (Part 2) | Top 3 Prone Mistakes
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